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story.lead_photo.caption An artist’s rendering shows a view from the north of what the completed Robinson Center will look like when it reopens this fall.

More than two years after its doors were closed for renovation, Robinson Center will reopen Nov. 10 with a $70.5 million face-lift.

The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the city-owned center, announced the new opening date Monday. They are calling it Robinson's "Second Act."

"When working on a construction project of this magnitude, with as many unknown variables regarding the structural integrity of a 76-year-old building, we are exceedingly grateful that we did not encounter significant unforeseen conditions, and very indebted to the team of architects, engineers and construction professionals that have worked on this project," said Gretchen Hall, the chief executive officer and president of the bureau.

The music and performance hall has been closed since July 2014.

Little Rock voters approved extending a 2 percent advertising and promotion tax and using its revenue to pay off a 30-year bond to fund the project. While some details had to be altered over the months to stay within budget, Hall and other officials have said nothing major has been changed from the initial plans. The budget increased about $400,000 since construction in order to keep the terrace in the plans.

The new Robinson Center will feature a "world-class" acoustically state-of-the-art performance theater with a three-level grand staircase and expanded lobbies, restrooms, patron amenities and dressing rooms.

A new glass-front conference center will have meeting rooms, a 500-seat, 7,400-square-foot grand ballroom that can be divided into three parts and connect to the Doubletree Hotel's catering kitchen, and a 5,800-square-foot terrace overlooking the Arkansas River that can be booked for weddings, receptions and special events.

Tours of the updated venue will be given after a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting and news conference event Nov. 10.

The bureau said it will release more details on the opening-day activities closer to the date.

The first major event in the newly remodeled facility will be the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Opus Ball just two days later.

The symphony will also be the first performers in the auditorium with a Nov. 19-20 pair of Masterworks concerts, billed as "Return to Robinson Center." Music Director Philip Mann has put together a program of showpieces designed to show off to best advantage the hall's new acoustics.

Jonathan Semans, the project manager with CDI/Hunt Joint Venture that took on the renovation task, said the building "is an incredibly intricate and complex project from scheduling to logistics to cost control," and that he's proud of the construction workers, subcontractors and project team's work on their success.

The design team was led by Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock and Ennead Architects of New York.

"The project's design combines historic significance with a dramatic new modern addition that takes advantage of the building's unique location on the banks of the Arkansas River," a news release said. "The exterior envelope of the original building has been restored and is now visible in multiple areas inside the new conference center addition."

The new building will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified.

A complete gutting and remodel of the theater will improve line of sight for patrons, and add to the acoustic volume and height. The room will be handicap accessible, and officials say the new box seating along the side walls will create a more intimate feel.

Hall has said that redesign of the "back of the house" areas such as loading deck, electrical and mechanical systems, staging and added dressing room capacity will attract larger Broadway shows that couldn't feasibly bring their act to the venue before.

Robinson Center originally opened in 1939 as the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium after two years of construction. It was a Works Progress Administration Project that featured the Art Deco style architecture of the time. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. This is the first major renovation of the building.

Information for this article was contributed by Eric Harrison of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 09/13/2016

Print Headline: November opening day scheduled for LR's redone Robinson Center


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